Fleche Buffoonery 2017 – “Just can’t say Thank You”
April 29, 2017 § 1 Comment
Me: “Hey Tim?”
Tim: “Yeah Bird?”
Me: “If Fools Classic was the hammer and I was the nail, what is Fleche Buffoon?”
Tim: “A bigger hammer Bird. A much bigger hammer.”
In the spirit of “Behavior that is ridiculous but amusing” I rode the last of Kermesse Sports Spring Classics rides, Fleche Buffoon this past weekend. A 72 mile jaunt around Upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania, as well as Hunterdon County in New Jersey. It’s not just 72 miles, but 72 miles connecting gnarly steep-ass climbs on both sides of the Delaware. The Delaware, yes its a river, but it has the property in this part of the country, of having cut out a low flood plain out of a higher bluff. While there are some gentle ascents away from the river, they are few. Most are leg grinders, and most of those are a part of Fleche Buffoon. Checking the USGS site for the area and the “formations” that make up Bucks and Hunterdon counties, and three significant words pop out.
- Jurassic (Pretty fuggin old),
- Triassic (Pretty fuggin older),
- Cambrian (Really really fuggin older)
That is old, hard rock to wear down, and it doesn’t wear down gently, and the Delaware has been working at it in some form for nearly 500 million years, and hence the Cambrian reference above. Another way to look at it, consider Bryce Canyon in Utah where the upper most layers are relatively young rock at 9000+’. The bottom visible layers of Bryce, are the same as the upper most layers of Zion Canyon (8600+’). The bottom layers of Zion, are the same as the upper layers of the Grand Canyon (8500+’). The bottom of the Grand Canyon (3000′), is Cambrian era rock, and that, though not the same formation as in the Delaware is the same age as some of the exposed rock along the Delaware. The Delaware and everything around it is old.
Speaking of old, who wanted to join me on this shove-splinters-beneath-your-fingernails trial of stamina? That would be Terry, Dave, and Cliff. Terry you will remember from my Fools Classic posting. After all the King’s horses, and all the King’s men couldn’t put Terry together again, he foolishly signed up for Fleche Buffoon and then texted me about it. With only two weeks to prepare/recover I first texted him back a link to a climbing dense ride I know of that starts near Lebanon, NJ just off Rt 78. Later, thinking that I would join him to help him out, I sent a link to a much more local Monmouth County Hills ride that we could do together that allows us to get the climbing in, but avoid wasting 2 hours in the car traveling.
I have ridden with Dave a few times, but not enough to know how this ride would affect him. Cliff, I know as a stubborn, relentless old fart who, though not really a climber, can grit his teeth and grind on. I did do Cliff the courtesy of telling him “Fools Classic was hard and Fleche would be at least as hard”, so that he might have some clue what he had signed up for. I should have told him to bring his new Pegoretti, because I knew that bike had the gearing for this ride. A work of art like a Pegoretti might not be people’s first choice for a punishment beatdown ride, but this was a ride that needed the right gearing, and unfortunately for Cliff, he didn’t come with the right bike. Another Cliff quality trait is he will ride on when we regroup and then we catch him later. Might as well get a head start on the next climb.
The official start time for the ride was 9am, leaving from St Martins of Tours Church in New Hope, Pa. Kudos to the the church for allowing a bunch of grungy old saggy nutsack riders to assemble for a ride that is classified as aggravated assault. Though St Martin himself lived in the 4th century, he would have marveled at the cycling pilgrims who dressed out in underwear in his parking lot. It wouldn’t be long before a lot of prayers were being begged if only those beggars could get to the top of the next climb.
On one of those early climbs, the first where the percent grade reached into the 20’s I was already in my lowest climbing gear and lurching along in time to my pedal strokes when a very loud voice boomed out, and filled every inch of the hollow we were riding out of. “FUCK! Move you fuggin slowpoke! You suck! Move your legs! Fuck! Fuck!” and on and on. I couldn’t quite echo locate the source, and it being a female voice, it sounded first like it was behind me, AND I thought she was talking to me. So I straightened out my wheel, and moved over to reduce the amount of road real estate I was consuming, and the epithets and self-flagellation kept coming. Finally, I located the source, and it was a fairly young woman with long pig-tails riding just in front of me. When I passed her, I let her know that she helped inspire me to push harder, and thanked her.
The point where any stitches you might have any where in or on your body begin to come apart is on a teeny tiny rural road called Uhlerstown Hill Road (Strava Segment here). It is so bucolic, the approach from 32. A small crossing of the flood plain brings you to a Covered Bridge that spans the Western Canal and the Canal Bike Path. Egressing the other side, an immediate right turn is made and the road narrows to something just wider than a goat path. A warning sign that indicates death is imminent for many is passed, and the climb begins with a not leg breaking easy ramp. However, you do need to be ready for it, because once the road turns back into the hill, the grade ramps into the mid to high 20’s for a grade that will have anyone screaming obscenities at themselves like a young pig-tailed woman. I missed her on this section of road.
The reward for Uhlerstown is spending some time upon the bluff and knowing that the ride’s one and only support station isn’t too far ahead in Upper Black Eddy, PA. Because the weather was warm this day, the organizers decided they needed an aid station and utilized the same location as they did in Fools Classic. This time the aid came in mile 32 and not mile 52. We were all happy to take a break. Unlike Fools, Terry was in better shape this time around, and needed nothing more than to refresh his water bottles, and scarf down some energy. Cliff realized early in this ride that this ride was more than he thought it would be, and he didn’t linger long. “I’ll see you guys up the road, I am going to get a head start.” I didn’t really know the route, and suspected it climbed early on the other side of the Delaware, and that is what I told him. He left in the company of some other riders, and that was the last we saw Cliff again until the end of the ride.
Every climb is a test of your metal, but we all knew that something lurked around mile 42. Like a calm before a storm the ride to the storm was actually quite pleasant. Crossing the bridge into Milford, and a left and a right and you find yourself on a Jersey side flood plain rural road that edges up against an escarpment of Cambrian rock. This goes on for 5 miles before climbing begins anew. The climb you hit is only there to remind your legs that something worse is coming, and after negotiating back to the Delaware once again, Adamic is reached. Unlike Uhlerstown, Adamic is a wide standard rural road that at least contains some almost 90 degree turns that offer a hard inside, and an easier outside alteration to the knife blade that is being thrust between your eyes. There are just enough of these to give you hope of making it, and once you have hope, then despair is kept at bay. Apparently at the top of Adamic is the Dutch Style wind mill, but I think I was sucking wind so badly my concentration was on the immediate roadway in front of me, and I rode right past it.
One thing I didn’t miss was that we didn’t happen upon Cliff. I was pretty sure I would catch him by the top of the climb, but he was not there. I rode slowly on until Dave, and then Terry caught on and we moved on. As subsequent climbs came and went, we all started to wonder about Cliff’s status. I didn’t think he would ride too far off course if he made a wrong turn, but I didn’t really know. I texted him, and then shared my location with him until the end of the day. At least if he knew that feature of his phone, he could at least see where we were.
New Jersey went on to give us as much rural beauty as we had been treated to in Bucks County. Back into Milford we found ourselves, and then eventually Frenchtown. We weren’t ready for Rt. 29 just yet, and regrouping (without Cliff) we set off for another challenging rural road that did drop us onto Rt 29. As we pedaled along 29, I became aware of all the “other” climbs they could have thrown in, but 6000′ apparently is enough torture to inflict upon paying customers.
The last climb in NJ though starts out with a real pretty sight of falling water. It was all I could do to not throw myself in and wipe away some of the rotting flesh smell, the result of the steady decomposition of my body induced by this ride. Not to be disappointed though, once past this scene of refreshment, the hill angles up, steep and straight. Just the sight of how far you had to ride before you had a chance to see where the top was, was enough for some people to simply hit the brakes, and step down to begin walking.
We crossed back into PA across the footbridge at Bull’s Island. On the Jersey Side, there is a wide swath of forested property with a park building and plenty of parking, whereas on the PA side the egress from the bridge dumps you square onto Rt 32 with about 5′ to spare. There was a wedding at The Black Bass, an old hotel with “character” and members of the wedding party were taking pictures on the bridge when we dragged the rotting flesh of our existence past them. Like the unclean, or the lower castes of India, I am not sure they even noticed us other than the sharp assault on their olfactory glands.
Though the finish isn’t that far up the hill from Rt 32, we weren’t going to be treated to anything that easy on this ride. We still had to climb all the way back up to the top of the bluff before working our way back to New Hope. “Our” was a bit of misnomer. I found my usual rhythm on the climb, and just as I was reaching a point where I could see daylight, I heard a whistle. This was a clear attention getting whistle, but I was in the throws of full on climbing concentration and the end was in sight. What was I to do? I certain was NOT going back down the hill! Once on top I soft pedaled for some distance and after a few glances over my shoulder, and seeing no one, I simply started to pedal harder to bring this ride to a conclusion. I would hear about it back at the parking lot.
Apparently Terry cramped on the final climb and needed a few moments to recover, and probably some electrolytes and water, and he and Dave rode in shortly after. After high fiving Tim, and giving him my early apples to apples assessment of the ride, I staggered to the back for my beer and sandwich, and while I punching that down I dialed Cliff to see where he was, because he was not at his truck when I rode in, thus dispelling the myth that he called it a day and simply rode back to his truck. Turns out he did make a wrong turn and after it dead-ended and he retraced his steps back to the route, we had passed him, so in reality he had been behind us the entire rest of the ride.
In the spirit of the NYC homeowner, who after his wife made him call the cops because of a squirrel which then became one of This American Life’s most treasured stories. Cliff looked at me and said “Bird, I just can’t say thank you for this experience.” “This just isn’t my kind of ride”
Cliff had to be somewhere by 6 PM, so he had to skedaddle, and he and Dave quickly changed, grabbed some refreshment, and hit the road. My wife Susan was sitting at a bar called “Dubliner on the Delaware”, and she had the keys to my truck. That was very bad planning on my part. I should have known there was no reason to leave the keys with her. The problem caused by this was not only could I not change, but I didn’t have any shoes to wear either. I would have to walk into town in my socks or bare feet. Terry, comprehending my dilemma offered me his sandals. I wear a size 11.5 and Terry’s feet are size 9. I put them on the ground, shoved my feet in, and said “These could work”, and then Terry drove me into town and dropped me off. I said my goodbyes, and thanked him again for the sandals.
Just what is it like to walk in shoes that are too small for you? If you are my age, then you certainly must remember an old episode of “Our Gang” in which Dickey wants to surprise his mother with a new outfit for her birthday, and not having any money they get this grand idea to bake a cake and sell the slices. Well, the plan doesn’t work out too well, and they only have a little money, and they cut some deal with the thrift store owner and they end up with an outfit for their mom. In the final moments Dickey tells her that “The salesman threw the shoes in for free!” and the closing shot is the family walking up the steps to church as can be seen in this Video Link. That is what it is like to wear shoes too small for you, and I eventually wound up carrying those shoes back to the truck while I walked in my socks.
Though I could change into “cleaner” clothing, I could not become “clean”, and in this state of cleanliness I returned to “The Dubliner on Delaware” where I ate a second meal and consumed an additional pint of black gold Guiness Draft.
So ends the Kermessee Sports spring classic series rides for 2017. It took me a long time to get over here, but in the end I am glad I did. I may have suffered much, but I did enjoy it, and perhaps when January 25th 2018 rolls around, I will be awaiting with my point and click fingers to sign up for more punishment. The folks at Kermessee Sports put on excellent events, and if you think you are up for a challenge, then get out there and put the winter miles in, because you will be rewarded for your efforts.